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CP archives to Exporail

By October 31, 2018HeritageRail News

By Peter Murphy, Exporail

Without any public fanfare, Canadian Pacific Railway Company (CP) has donated its massive archival collection of documents, plans of bridges and structures, and photos to Exporail, the Canadian Railway Museum in Saint-Constant, Quebec, south of Montreal.

This is a remarkable collection that documents much of Canada’s history, from 1847 to 2007. On its website, Exporail says, “CP’s archives document the words, the writings, and the actions that helped shape the country’s early growth.”

A sample photo from the archive.

The CPR Archives survived in Windsor Station, Montreal (much of it in vaults below ground). They remained secure safe from fire, flood and other dangers through all these years. In 1996 the company’s head office was moved from Montreal to Calgary but the archives remained behind. CP donated its archives between 2013 and 2016. The move was made in several stages over this time. In 2014, the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board designated the archival collection as being of ‘outstanding significance and national importance’ to Canada.

The late Ronald S. Ritchie CPR retired and CPR archives volunteer standing in front of the Heckman photographic albums (8 X 10 prints from the late 1880s).

CP is an international company that played a major role in a number of areas, including railroading, telecommunications, marine, trucking, aviation, immigration, colonization, agriculture, tourism, engineering, natural resources, insurance, manufacturing, real estate, and the war effort. In the 1880s, CP was even involved in land settlement in the west.

After divesting itself of all non-rail activities almost 30 years ago, CP is today the second-largest freight railway in Canada and one of the largest in North America.

The CPR Fonds contains:

  • 561.75 linear meters of textual documents
  • 167 letter books
  • 491 registers about locomotives and freight cars
  • About 67,000 technical drawings, survey plans, and maps
  • About 625,000 photos and negatives
  • About 800 publicity posters
  • 154 films and videos
  • 30 works of art

The author working on the archive move.

Employee records were not part of the donation to Exporail. They were kept by the railway and are not available for research.

The timing for making parts of the collection accessible online is not known at this time. For now, Exporail is digitizing photos on request and posts them on its Facebook page.


Inquiries about the CPR Fonds can be sent to Mylene Belanger, archivist at Exporail, at mylene.belanger@exporail.org or by completing an on-line form.

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